Why do we need inquiry for children? In the cases of younger children, it seems pointless. The parents have made up the children’s minds for them. They will enter this process and finish it because their parents said so. Why not start these children with Christianity 101 and go on from there?
Thanks for your question on a precatechumenate for children. It does seem like sometimes children are only in the process because their parents want them to be, although that can be the very reason why a precatechumenate is important! While the parent may want baptism for the child, the child may not even be evangelized. At other times, a precatechumenate may not be necessary.
Let’s begin by looking at whether or not children benefit from a precatechumenate. First, it depends on the needs and the background of the particular child. The precatechumenate “is a time of evangelization” (RCIA, 36) when children hear the good news and develop their relationship with the living God and Jesus Christ. This time of “initial conversion” (RCIA, 37) is extremely important for children who have not yet been become consciously aware of their intimate and loving relationship with God. In order to ensure conversion, before we begin “Christianity 101” we must first see to it that the child is aware of her or his relationship with God. In other words, initial conversion comes first and then the catechesis.
Indeed, the General Directory for Catechesis echoes a similar point in paragraph 62. The GDC says that the “first stage in the catechetical process” is dedicated to “ensuring conversion.” A “pre-catechesis” (or a precatechumenate) must precede catechesis if we want to nurture conversion in the child, which is of course the goal of initiation with children (RCIA, 253).
Moreover, what I have just described in the previous two paragraphs is for children who have not yet been evangelized and thus need a precatechumenate. In my experience, some, if not many, of the children who come to us need evangelization. They have not yet heard the good news, they are unfamiliar with the Scriptures and unaware of God’s deep, unconditional love for them. It is not an uncommon that when I do the initial pastoral visit with a child, he or she is not able to speak about God. In other words, they “know” very little of God’s love for them. They have not yet been evangelized.
One example may illustrate this point. Recently, I interviewed an inquiring family during the Advent/Christmas season. The child was not able to tell me anything she knew about God and did not know any stories from the Bible. Trying to help her along and thinking that the story of “Baby Jesus and Three Kings” would sound familiar, I asked her if she had ever heard this story. She stared at me blankly.
Even though many people would say that North America is a Christian society, many children have not heard the good news of God’s saving love. Thus, many children need a precatechumenate before we begin the more formal catechesis of the period of the catechumenate.
On the other hand, some inquiring children come to us already evangelized. These children may be baptized or unbaptized. The key is evangelization. If they are evangelized and at least somewhat aware of their relationship with Jesus Christ, then they probably don’t need the period of the precatechumenate. The initial pastoral interview will help you and the parents discern what best meets the needs of the child. And, as you well know, the needs of each child and family will be different.